Since June 2014, Libya has been the fourth most volatile country in the ACLED African dataset with 534 reported conflict events. Political violence continued to escalate throughout the month of October (see Figure 1)with September recording the highest fatalities – and over double those reported since the beginning of the renewed post-civil war violence. Compared to other African states, Libya witnessed similar conflict levels as Nigeria and South Africa with an average of just under 107 conflict events per month (see Figure 2).
In contrast to Nigeria, which experienced a de-escalation of conflict since June 2014, Libya’s conflict trajectory has rapidly escalated through battles between armed groups (54% of all events). The escalation can be understood from the divisive political landscape created by two competing parliaments – the House of Representatives and General National Congress – and the armed affiliations that this has spurred. The internationally-recognised House of Representatives, backed by the ex-General Khalifa Haftar, has struggled for power with the General National Congress, which is supported by the Libya Dawn coalition. In the most recent development, Haftar’s ‘Operation Dignity’ has come under the oversight of the Libyan National Army, and is aimed at expelling violent Islamist militias such as Ansar al-Sharia and the February 17th February Martyrs Brigade from Benghazi. The Libyan National Army pushed into Benghazi last week, regaining large parts of the city, driving further battles between insurgents (see Figure 3). Whilst clashes with the Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council were originally concentrated near Benghazi airport, intense fighting has scattered across several Benghazi residential districts, including the western entrance of Qaryūnus where the 17th February camp is located.
Operation Libya Dawn’s counter-offensive in Tripoli has expanded south into the Nafusa mountain region with factional fighting between pro-government Zintan militia and Misratan and other tribal and city-based militia groups who claim to uphold the principles of the 2011 revolution (see Figure 4). Heavy fighting has spread geographically as military forces have battled pockets of resistance in Kiklah, Gharyan and surrounding areas as they advance towards Tripoli. A comparison of the Libyan political landscape in 2011 and 2014 highlights that conflict levels since August 2014 have been higher than all months during the Libyan civil war in 2011 except for March 2011. This pattern may be explained by the ‘opening up of the political space’ that has enabled multiple, competing factions to emerge. Whilst the number of events has dramatically escalated following the launch of Operation Dignity, conflict-related fatalities have in general remained well below their 2011 levels.
The competition between the rival parliaments has catalysed discussions over each government’s legitimacy, sparking debate on international intervention. The concentration of fighting in Tripoli and Benghazi has been to seize control over state institutions, with the focus now turning towards access to the Central Bank and the National Oil Corporation to shore up vital assets to fund their respective campaigns (Libya-Analysis, 3 November 2014). Egypt and the UAE support the Tobruk-based Libyan government, but their direct involvement in shelling opposition camps is still contested, and Libya Dawn are believed to be backed by Qatar and Turkey (The Washington Post, 26 October 2014). Nevertheless, the channelling of funds and foreign support to these multifarious armed groups is adding fuel to the fire, and the ongoing crisis in Libya is at risk of being a proxy war by international powers contesting regional influence. To avoid this, Libya’s neighbours and the international community must commit to a policy of non-interference (Foreign Affairs, 6 October 2014), otherwise the cleavages that currently beset the Libyan society are only likely to deepen. After Egyptian president Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi accused foreign groups of coordinating an assault in the Sinai Peninsula that left over 30 soldiers dead on the 24 October, any attempt to seek redress across the border will risk Egypt becoming further embroiled in the political developments in Libya (Libya Herald, 26 October 2014).
Libya Herald. 2014. ‘Egypt may attack Libyan terror camps in revenge for Sinai soldier massacre.’ Libya Herald. 26 October 2014. Available at: http://www.libyaherald.com/2014/10/26/egypt-may-attack-libyan-terror-camps-in-revenge-for-sinai-soldier-massacre/ [last accessed 4 November 2014].
Libya-Analysis. 2014. ‘The Battle for Oil and Money Quietly Continues.’ Libya Analysis. 3 November 2014. Available online at: http://www.libya-analysis.com/ [last accessed 4 November 2014].
The Washington Post. 2014. ‘Is Libya a Proxy War?’ The Washington Post. 26 October 2014. Available online at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/monkey-cage/wp/2014/10/24/is-libya-a-proxy-war/ [last accessed 4 November 2014].
Wehrey, F. and Lacher, W. 2014. ‘Libya’s Legitimacy Crisis. The Dangers of Picking Sides in the Post-Qaddafi Chaos. Foreign Affairs. 6 October 2014. Available online at: http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/142138/frederic-wehrey-and-wolfram-lacher/libyas-legitimacy-crisis [last accessed 4 November 2014].